The Empirical Science Paradigm (ESP) and the Liberal Arts Paradigm (LAP) in TS


Gyde Hansen

December 29, 2008


Traditionally, approaches in research are divided into two main paradigms. Paradigms are philosophical and theoretical frameworks that provide researchers with ethical norms and rules that reflect what is regarded as “science” or even “good science”. Depending on the fields of research, in textbooks, the two paradigms are referred to with different terms like, for example:

·        inductive/empirical research – deductive/rationalistic research;

·        data-oriented research – hermeneutic research;

·        empirically oriented research ‘empiricism’ – interpretive theoretical research.


In short, empirical research is mostly used in natural and social sciences. It is exploration of reality based on data and facts, providing systematic evidence. It is also the application of working hypotheses that are testable, e.g. in experiments. Non-empirical research, mostly known from the humanities, is regarded as the philosophical and theoretical investigation of texts (but also manifestations of life) – using argumentation and rationale.

      Scholars from the two camps do not always understand each other and they sometimes criticize each other. What is held against empirical research is that it is a-theoretical and that whatever we observe, it is always influenced by language, selective perception, a degree of subjectivity, etc. because nobody approaches reality as a tabula rasa. The non-empirical, philosophical and theoretical approaches are criticized for being speculative, intuitive and less solid than empirical research.  

      Also in TS, this major distinction between to kinds of research is made. It is differently referred to, e.g. as “conceptual research” and “empirical research” (Williams/Chesterman 2002: 58), as “natural sciences paradigm” and “the humanities-inspired paradigm” (Gile 2004: 125) or also the “Empirical Science Paradigm (ESP)” and the “Liberal Arts Paradigm (LAP)” (Gile, this website, January 2005). In his December issue of 2008, Gile talks about the “Empirical Research Paradigms”.

      Both, the terms as the division are problematic because of the following:

  • as the term “science” in ESP implies, ESP has been (and by some researchers still is) regarded as more “scientific” than LAP. LAP-researchers on the other hand, e.g. those who work with hermeneutics, critical theory or discourse analysis, do not accept to be considered as “not scientific”. If we translate the term “scientific” into the German “wissenschaftlich”, it is easy to understand why some scholars whose work is oriented towards LAP get angry because they cannot accept that their research should be categorized as “nicht wissenschaftlich”.
  • rough divisions like “conceptual and empirical research”, “natural sciences paradigm” and “humanities-inspired paradigm” or “ESP and LAP” and lately “ERP and LAP” are quite general. They create generalizations which would need further investigation and much more support by systematic evidence.


What is, for example, the exact extension of the term LAP? LAP comprises not only hermeneutics but also other paradigms like, structuralism, constructivism, critical theory, discourse analysis, etc. – all of them with their special research objects, rules and traditions, which by researchers from other paradigms may be regarded as more or less “scientific” and more or less solid.

Having the large group of paradigms under the head of LAP in mind - can it then be generalized that LAP is less solid and more speculative than ESP? It is not allowed in LAP either to make claims based on intuition, to make inferences “without informing the readers of the exact facts and methods used to make the inferences, etc. […]”, as Gile points it out in his issue in January 2005. This characteristic does not hold in general – at least not for hermeneutics where a similar rigor and solidity as in empirical research is asked for (every stone turned).

      A closer look at the required research skills in the main paradigms shows that it is roughly the same skills that are necessary for proper research in ESP and LAP. Actually, there is no obvious reason why one of them should be regarded as more solid or “wissenschaftlich” than the other – if only the research is done properly.


Gile, D. 2004. “Response to the invited papers”. In Translation Research and Interpreting Research, Chr. Schäffner (ed.). Clevedon, Buffalo, Torronto: Multilingual Matters Ltd. 124-127.

Gile, D. 2005. “The liberal arts paradigm and the empirical science paradigm.” Research issue January 2005.

Gile, D. 2008. “Where is the evidence? On one limitation of the Empirical Research Paradigms.” Research issue December 2008.

Williams, J. & A. Chesterman. 2002. The Map. Manchester: St. Jerome.